Rating: 2.0

Label: Thrill Jockey

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Longtime cohorts Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg have once more combined forces to bring us the impressionistic musical topography entitled Choral. The soundscape genre has been known to stump those not gifted with a lengthy attention span or magnanimous temperament. For some, such a musical category can feel like walking into a new-age boutique and hearing rack upon rack of tiny glass bottles rattle along with some wind chimes and maybe the shopkeeper’s otherworldly jewelry. Our species is comprised of two sorts of people – those who are drawn into the crystalline enigma of it all, and those who’d sooner opt out and grab a burger down the way. Should you belong to the latter sort, it helps to keep in mind that the advent of The Mountains came about with the intent to perform live, which means that the audio-layers that crop up on Choral may be better suited to a shadowy face-à-face at some local venue. It could be just the thing to unleash that hidden predilection for diaphanous overlay of mist, ill-tuned radio broadcast and the very tones of mysticism.

“Choral” opens this sequence of sound-sculptures in a tinkling series of resonant tiers and concludes on a meditative note. “Map Table” dabbles in more organic-sounding guitar fare, gilded with the soft rattlings of what might might be some ice in a cup. “Telescope” embroiders further strumming with some white noise and a handful of profound synth chords. “Add Infinity” might take after a jam session between Tibetan monk and noodling guitar spirit, until they chance upon the distortion ghoul, with his experimental pattering (maybe he’s rustling a pencil back and forth over his stack of tax returns). “Melodica” brings to mind a team of trapped spelunkers with nothing to pass the time but a harmonica and little, tinkering hammers. Then they starve to death and all we’re left to hear is the wind brushing past the stalactites. “Sheets” flimsily wraps up Choral with yet another cryptic sound impression that tapers out.

This may simply be the sort of pale, muted oeuvre that demands listening-to on a train ride or through a hike in the woods. By withholding any palpable emotional stakes Holtkamp and Anderegg could be trying to draw a sort of imaginative leadership out of its listeners, in which case the benefit of their work would seem to lie more in our ears than in theirs.

by Joan Wolkoff